Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Review: Game On (2024)

By David Bockino

If you been following the sports media during recent times, you know that the business seems to be changing by the hour these days. It's tough to keep up with all of the methods and choices that are out there, partially because the options turn over so quickly. 

In other words - used an AOL account to sign on to the Internet lately?

I suppose all of this started with the rise of spectator sports in the 19th century, when people began to have enough leisure time to participate and watch in physical activities rather than worry most of the time about where the next meal was coming from. The newspaper industry was cranking up its mass production levels at the same time, and it was a perfect marriage ... for a while.

But then, around 100 years ago, the business began to change. That's where David Bockino's book, "Game On," comes in. He's taken a good-sized look at some of the highlights of the big moments of development for that industry, and has put together a relatively easy-to-read guide to the subject. 

Bockino, a former ESPN employee who now works as a professor at Elon University in North Carolina, begins with the rise of a couple of different vehicles for telling sports stories. One was film. The Johnson-Jeffries fight had such strong interest that there was a demand to capture the fight that way so that it could be replayed later for audiences. Jack Johnson's victory over James J. Jeffries (who played The Great White Hope in that drama) led to some problems in the America of 1910, which in some cases wasn't happy about the sight of a Black man beating up a white man - even in motion pictures. 

The other came a decade or so later, when a Jack Dempsey fight with George Carpentier was broadcast on radio on a network of sorts in 1921. We didn't know what the future held at that point, but we could see and hear it to a certain extent.

With that we go on a ride through some important moments in the history of the sports media. Television displayed its potential with a broadcast of the 1947 World Series. Sports Illustrated offered a different perspective soon after its arrival in 1954. The NFL was allowed to sell its television rights collectively after an act of Congress permitted it in 1961;. The first Ali-Frazier fight of 1971 displayed the potential of closed-circuit broadcast of big events; you can see the link to pay-per-view broadcasts from there. 

Then there's the birth of ESPN, the opening of college sports broadcasts on a much larger scale, the rise of sports talk radio, the birth of social media, and the spread of sports broadcasts nationally. Lately, the decision to legalize sports betting in 2018 is changing the landscape in unseen ways as we talk about it. It's worth noting that Bochino spends some time on "foreign" events, such as European and Latin American soccer, along with cricket and the opening of the Chinese market to outside interests.  

Let's give Bockino credit for doing his homework. This is a well-researched book. Even someone who has followed events closely will learn some things along the way. That should keep you reading if you pick it up in the first place. The events might not be all interesting; I had a little trouble figuring out why I should care too much about sports media in Argentina. I'm also surprised that the demise of newspapers doesn't receive some examination along the way.

It doesn't seem as if there's an overriding theme that unites the chapters of the book together. Bockino does make a fair point that the sports media seems to be racing toward more personalization as a rule. In other words, fans these days can stick to watching a particular team or sport exclusively if they wish. They also can tailor the news through certain outlets to reflect their own interests. Companies can still make lots of money focusing on one team, but it's not like 60 years when fans had to take what they were fed. 

There will be more of that in the future, naturally, and we'll be surprised again by how fast the changed arrived. "Game On" is done well enough to offer quite a few rewards to those who are willing to pick it up and read it.

Four stars

Learn more about this book from Amazon.com..(As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)  

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